Monday, July 14, 2014

Child migrant crisis: will this become a call for personal "radical hospitality"?

What’s the main reason for the sudden influx of unaccompanied minors and frank children from Central America, actually riding the length of Mexico, sometimes by jumping freight trains? 
NPR has a good simple explanation  It’s a 2008 law  (the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, or TVPRA) that requires that people from non-contiguous countries be seen by an immigration judge before they are repatriated (sent back).  It can take months to get a hearing, so they have to be housed.  
Those who have family within the US typically get to stay there.  According to the Migration Policy Institute, some get foster care (link ). 

The TVPRA seems to have been renewed in 2013 as part of the Violence Against Women’s Act (Wordpress link) with a great deal of support from women’s groups.  That may have helped reinforce a misleading message that it would pay for minors to come here.
Furthermore, conservatives maintain that president Obama has made misleading promise that could attract immigrants. This relates to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. 
And several district attorneys from Los Angeles maintain that gang criminals whom they prosecuted might have gone down to Central America after release from prison, finding weak governments. 
Vox Media has a “yellow cards” 2-minute explanation of the crisis.  But today (Monday July 14) it backed away from a purely intellectual approach to a column “What you can do to help the US’ 52000 child immigrants”, link here,  Besides donating money (which some people, including me, manage through banks and trusts with automated payments, that can be changed or shifted around as crises emerge), the general answer is, in most parts of the country, not a whole lot (pro bono legal services are needed).  But the paper mentions “fostering a child” which it then recognizes is a tremendous commitment, and definitely not for everyone, maybe not for most people. Indeed, stepping up into something like this can require tremendous sacrifice and change in life direction. 
In fact, for the government or Obama administration to “ask” the American people to do this, or to suggest it is some kind of moral obligation (comparable to military or national service) would only encourage more illegal immigration, with more deaths and tragedies in the dangerous journey north. As a policy matter, the administration and Congress simply should not do this.

In fact, generally Americans haven’t been viewed as personally “responsible” for children in totalitarian or unstable countries, even like Syria, even though individual charities (Save the Children, World Vision, etc) and churches do respond vigorously.  Families who try to adopt these children find it risky and difficult.  The LGBT community could find that personal welcome mats or hospitality affects the ability of those needing asylum from hostile countries, but the media generally hasn’t made a lot of this yet.   In 1980, the LGBT community in southern states was asked to help house Cuban refugees already in the country (illegally). 

What individual people who have some means do on their own, however, does matter.  That sets the tone for how others view inequality, and has an effect on stability, even homeland security.  This is particularly vexing for someone like me who did not enter the world of “family formation” or engage in relations capable of producing children.  In coming weeks, there will definitely be a lot of sermons on this issue in many churches.  And there may be a call for “radical hospitality”. 

Update: July 15

WJLA-7 reports that some migrant children are being housed at undisclosed locations in Prince William County, 30 miles or so south of Washington DC, and are depending on charitable or religious organizations to provide care.  The article suggests that some immigration judges will allow some to stay because of threats of violence, but does this depend on secondary volunteerism? Details are sketchy,. 

Second picture: Smithsonian (Kenya).

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